February 10, 2005
1 Adar I, 5765


 

Edmonton elects first Jewish mayor

By NEIL LOOMER
Special to The CJN

Stephen Mandel

EDMONTON — With a victory described a “stunning upset” by Edmonton’s media, Stephen Mandel has been elected Edmonton’s first Jewish mayor.

The 59-year-old Mandel was serving a single three-year term on city council when he entered the race for mayor, and he becomes the second Jewish mayor elected in Western Canada this year, following Sam Katz in Winnipeg. .

Throughout the campaign, opinion polls showed Mandel trailing three-term mayor Bill Smith and former city councilor Robert Noce. But by the time the last poll was released just days before the Oct. 18 vote, Mandel had caught up to the frontrunners, and on election day he surprised even his supporters by taking 40 per cent of the votes, 17,000 more than Smith.

Mandel promised voters that he would work to “make Edmonton a capital city again,” referring to the feeling of many Edmontonians that Calgary has been receiving the major share of the benefits from Alberta’s booming economy. He has also said he would try to build consensus on city council, unlike the former mayor, who was often accused of forging ahead with his own agenda.

Mandel moved to Edmonton in 1972 from his native Windsor, Ont. He earned undergraduate degrees in arts and business from universities in the United States and a master’s in political science from the University of Windsor.

He moved to Edmonton to work with his father and has been involved in land development, trailer parks, small shopping centres and other commercial properties. His father David died of cancer in 1982.

Mandel has been an active volunteer in both the Jewish and general communities. In 1997 and 1998, he was president of the Jewish Federation of Edmonton, and, until his election to council, he was a board member of the Beit Horim Society, a group dedicated to establishing a Jewish seniors residence in Edmonton.

Up to a few years ago, he could also be seen on the ice or the ball diamond as part of the Jewish hockey and baseball leagues, but a heart by-pass operation two years ago put a halt to those activities. His love of sports was put to the test in 1998, when he invested in the Tucson Gila Monsters of the West Coast Hockey League. This turned out to be one of his few bad business decisions, but he maintains the experience was a lot of fun.

He is a member of Temple Beth Ora, Edmonton’s Reform congregation.

Rabbi Lindsey bat Joseph describes Mandel as a long-time supporter who is “quietly generous without a lot of fanfare.” Her congregation is thrilled with his victory and believes that his straightforward approach and sense of humour will be appreciated by all Edmontonians.

The day after his election, Mandel celebrated his 31st wedding anniversary with his wife Lynn. Their children, Rachel, 27, and Adam, 24, are attending university in Florida.

Also prominent in the post-election coverage was his 91-year-old mother Bessie, who lives in an Edmonton retirement home. Newspaper reports commented on how Mandel would often have to leave council meetings early to drive his mother to an appointment.

Mandel’s religion was referred to a few times during the campaign, mostly with references to the Yiddish words and sayings he often uses in conversation.

The other Jewish member of Edmonton’s city council, Karen Leibovici, easily won re-election in her west end ward, 10,000 votes ahead of the second place finisher.